The Durham Light Infantry Memoir - John Brigg




2nd Lieut John Brigg - Durham Light Infantry

Those who have followed Lawrie Hodges’ tales where the RPs get the upper hand will be glad to know that it was not always one way traffic. I once had the great joy of getting the Provost Sergeant “on the rack” in front of his RPs. and his victim.

While not perhaps a unique occurrence, it was certainly unusual, certainly in a peacetime infantry battalion, for a 19 year old subaltern a mere five months after commissioning, to be not only acting Company Commander but also having to take Company Orders and sit in the judgement seat. This came about when the 2nd battalion, Durham Light Infantry returned from Germany to the Depot at Brancepeth to go into “suspended animation” which, for all practical purposes meant disbanding and all the personnel dispersing, some to 1/DLI others to other regiments and ERE jobs, after a ceremonial farewell parade through Durham. Although tinged with a certain amount of sadness, there was also a sort of “end-of-term” atmosphere about the battalion. Some of the Depot permanent staff, however, were not too happy with the disruption to their well ordered and smooth running little empire by this somewhat carefree invasion, particularly as there was not as much deference shown to them as by the recruits in training.

But first the battalion had a week of Disembarkation Leave. All that is except a small skeleton crew. In A Company this consisted of a sergeant and enough junior ranks for essential fatigues, fire pickets and so on as well, of course, as a clerk to keep the paperwork moving and me, the most junior officer. My day consisted of a pleasant walk to the Camp from the Castle after a leisurely breakfast, signing with a flourish “2nd Lieut., Acting Company Commander” any bumf the clerk produced, reading the paper and so on. One morning I was greeted by the acting CSM with “Legionnaire has got himself arrested so you will have to take Orders, the Depot RPs are bringing him over”. A perusal of the “AF 252” (charge sheet for those who have forgotten or never got on one!) with eight separate charges gave a pretty good summary of what had happened the previous afternoon. Private E----e, always known as Legionnaire, with time on his hands had gone for a stroll.

Unfortunately he was casually dressed in PT vest, denim trousers, gym shoes and no beret. Had he stayed in the Company or even the Battalion lines all would have been well but wandering past the Depot Guardroom was probably unwise as it gave the Depot RPs the chance they had been waiting for to score one against the Battalion. Charge 1 was being improperly dressed and one thing had obviously led to another with Legionnaire being subsequently arrested and put in the cells. Hence charges 2 to 7 which included Resisting Arrest and Striking a Non Commissioned Officer. All this suggested a classic case of ‘throwing the book’.

Sharp at 10.30 I was seated behind the table trying to look both solemn and important when crash, bang “Prisner’nescort quick march, mark time, halt” and the room was quickly filled by the Depot Provost Sergeant, several burly RPs with E----e sandwiched between them. Off we went with charge 1 “Lance Corporal xxxx?” “Sir, he was improperly dressed, Sir” and so on, although the thought of the small E----e taking on the RPs and “Striking an NCO” was pretty rich as he would have bounced off them! However it was a serious charge and he had undoubtedly taken a swing at them so there was really no alternative, bearing in mind that in my rank all I could do was admonish or a maximum of three days ‘jankers’, to remand to the Commanding Officer, being sure that Col. Leather would be pretty lenient, given the circumstances and with me to give a bit of support, and would be in a far better position to square up the RPs. for going over the top.

But before that we had to deal with charge 8 and this was when I realised that they really were pushing it and, when I read it out and spotted the RPs trying hard not to grin, I realised my moment had come to strike back and at least discomfort the Depot Provost Sergeant.
“Using obscene language – Charging officer Sergeant xxxx”
“Sir. He used obscene language, Sir”
“What did he say?” Stifled smirks from his staff.
“He used obscene language, Sir” By this time reddening up and looking extremely uncomfortable so I knew I had got him.
“So you keep saying. What exactly did he say or I shall dismiss the charge?” A long embarrassed silence and open grinning by the other witnesses, this was going to be good, I thought.
“He called me a f-----g c---t.” Delivered dead pan staring at a spot on the wall behind me about two feet above my head.
This was my turn to suppress a grin and resist the urge to agree with the accused’s assessment of the PS. Without daring to look at the CSM as we would both have cracked up, I stared hard at the charge sheet and weakly said “Remanded to the Commanding Officer”

That was the first and last time I have ever been called on to sit in judgement of my fellow men, although I did on one occasion have to go to Durham Assizes to give a (military) character reference for a recruit who was appearing on a charge of fraud committed before he had been called up. Also to a Court Martial to give a character reference for the cook sergeant and, on reflection, I doubt many National Servicemen ever got to see the inside of a Court Martial so that was another rare experience.

John Brigg.